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New handbook aims to spread awareness on service dogs in Japan after discrimination

This image shows the cover of a guidebook which compiles essential points on effective ways for administrative bodies to raise awareness on assistance dogs.

Following endless cases in which assistance dogs have been denied entry into public transportation, eateries, and other places, a guidebook has been compiled to help raise public awareness on the canines, which support those which physical disabilities.

    The 17-page, A4-sized handbook, compiled by consulting firm Creative Research and Planning Co., based in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, emphasizes the significance of local authorities' role in spreading awareness on service dogs, and provides specific and effective examples. It was created following discussions by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry panel including individuals who use assistance dogs, experts, local authorities, and businesses.

    The Act on Assistance Dogs for Physically Disabled Persons, enacted in 2002, requires facilities to allow people to enter with assistance dogs, but discriminatory treatment has continued in spite of the law.

    Under the law, local governments are required to strive to spreading awareness on assistance dogs and their users, but this had gone no further than releasing pamphlets targeting the public and medical institutions. The recently compiled guidebook has been published on the website of Japanese Service Dog Resource Center, a nonprofit organization based in Yokohama, at and other places, and the welfare ministry has notified prefectural governments and other local bodies to use it as a reference.

    The handbook emphasizes that it is mandatory under the assistant dog law to allow people using them to enter facilities and stores. It asks local governments to make it widely known that refusing entry goes against the law, dismissing the common misunderstanding that it is a matter of consideration or lack thereof for the disabled. The guide also instructs local authorities to properly deal with problems regarding facilities' acceptance of assistance dogs in accordance with the law.

    A common misunderstanding behind the refusal of assistance dogs is that the dogs would make the place dirty. Another reason is pity for the dogs. In fact, those who use assistance dogs manage them appropriately so that they do not bark or do their business in public spaces. Assistance dogs are trained in accordance with their personalities so that they can enjoy their duty of being helpful to people, and their life spans are no different from those of regular pets. The handbook also points out the need to spread awareness among children through school education.

    According to the welfare ministry, as of April this year, 909 guide dogs were in service in Japan to assist the visually impaired, 62 to assist individuals with limb disabilities, and 69 as hearing dogs. As the number of assistance dogs has been on the decline in recent years, a representative of the Japanese Service Dog Resource Center called for promotion of public awareness, saying, "One reason behind this recent decline is that individuals give up on having assistant dogs after hearing about cases of refusal or encountering trouble, even if they want to use one. The number of users will surely increase if society is 100% welcoming."

    There have also been cases where information on assistance dogs has not reached individuals with disabilities, and the guidebook also advises local authorities to provide information around the time such individuals are considering a shift to self-reliance.

    Yoshitomo Kimura, the head of an association of service dog users that was involved in the implementation of the assistance dog law, commented, "Denying the accompaniment of assistance dogs is not an issue concerning the dogs, but rather a human rights violation that rejects users who need assistance dogs. I'd like for local authorities to utilize the guidebook and play an active role in spreading understanding."

    (Japanese original by Kayo Inada, Hanshin Bureau)

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